Hope and happiness make for a good Tournament. Our interview with Pres. Laura Farber

Laura V. Farber in the parlor of Tournament House

by Laura Berthold Monteros

Every new president of the Tournament of Roses is enthusiastic when talking about his or her parade, but it would be hard to beat the outright energy and joy of Laura Farber. Even when presented with concerns about the future““““` from long-time parade fans, she maintained her exuberance.

Farber took the helm of the 2020 Tournament of Roses on Jan. 17. She brings her personal vision to the 131st Rose Parade, 106th Rose Bowl Game, and all the attendant events that draw hundreds of thousands of people to the Pasadena area to share in America’s New Year Celebration. She is enthusiastic about new developments in the celebration, but loves the traditions, as well.

“I think that we have to respect tradition, but balance it with innovation,” she said. “We strive in everything we do” to strike that balance.

To that end, in addition to the longstanding committees, the Tournament now has a social media committee, an innovation team, and the brand new Festival Committee to plan and implement events.

“We want to enhance our demographic,” she said, with events that will “attract my kids.” She noted that television is being replaced by streaming for the younger demos. The Funny or Die live stream of the Rose Parade with Will Farrell and Molly Shannon was very successful, she said. It incorporated live chat to engage watchers.

It won’t be Macy’s

A concern that has often been expressed to The Rose Examiner is that increased emphasis on entertainment may lead to a parade that emulates the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

“Have no fear. We will not be Macy’s,” Farber insisted. “Macy’s and the Rose Parade are the most diametrically opposed [parades] I have ever seen.” The Macy’s entertainment is for the cameras, and then the floats come, she said. There is a single broadcaster, who can control every element., whereas the Rose Parade has several broadcasters.

“It’s apples and oranges…. We have no desire to turn into Macy’s.”

The official 2020 Tournament of Roses pin is circular to represent that hope is never ending

“We don’t want the parade of 20 years ago,”  she said, but “for traditionalists—we have something for you. It’s your Rose Parade.”

Entertainment or floats?

Something longtime fans will appreciate is how often Farber mentioned florals for floats. “Increase those florals,” she stated several times. Dry materials have distinct uses, but she said, “I’d like to see more floral and less seeds.” She would be “thrilled” to have more floral elements, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be entertainment.

“I do believe in having interactive floats and entertainment. It’s just how it comes together.” She mentioned Earth, Wind and Fire atop the 2018 Forum float, who brought parade-goers to their feet. “They made people happy. People were jumping up and down.” Pauses in the parade for performances are few and are carefully considered, she noted. They are factored into the time frame for the parade, which is two hours on the dot for broadcast.

Speaking of floats…

One event locals and visitors have looked forward to for decades is visiting the float barns during Deco Week, the last few days before the Rose Parade. The floats are in the final stages of flowering at that point, and the volunteers are scurrying around to get finished in time for judging. With no float barns left in Pasadena since Phoenix Decorating company joined the other two commercial builders, Fiesta Parade Floats and AES 15 miles to the east, Deco Week has been scaled down.

For the 2019 parade, AES moved its floats to Rosemont Pavilion, the float barn in the Rose Bowl area, along with Cal Poly Universities and FTD decorated cars. Some viewers expressed disappointment in the limited offerings for the $15 admission price. We asked if having shuttles to the other float barns might help.

Farber said that the Tournament is going to look at shuttles, but can’t make promises. They are also trying to make Rosemont more of an event. This year, AES put on Sip & Savor, a tasting event, next to the barn.

“It’s a good deal, pay for the floats and get admission to Sip & Savor. It was packed, the vendors were happy,” she said. The feedback was good, she said, and there were activities for children, as well. (Sampling tickets were about $2.50 each.)

Each block letter has an embedded illustration: band, equestrian, float, Rose Bowl Stadium

The Power of Hope

Farber was surprised to learn that the word “hope” had never been used in a Tournament of Roses theme before she chose “The Power of Hope” for the 2020 celebration. It is a word that has deep meaning for her, and runs throughout her life.

Farber’s parents came to the States with her when she was a young girl. They were students in Argentina during the time of the “Dirty War.” There was a lack of stability, she said, and students were the most vocal critics of the military government. Civil rights were abrogated.

“It was not a place where you felt comfortable that you could stay,” she said. One of her parents’ professors knew someone at University of California Santa Barbara, and her family was able to immigrate. Her parents, both biochemists, found a place at UCSB.

“It takes a lot to leave everything and everyone you know,” she said.

Her husband, Tomás Lopez, had similar experiences. His family came to New York from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. The US offered hope, opportunity, the ability to make a new life.

“That kind of motivated this theme. It’s a unifying theme at a time when we need to be unified,” she said. The New Year is a “time to turn over a new leaf.” Hope is life, she shared. It’s respect, joy, happiness. It’s inspirational, motivational, and aspirational.

“Nobody can ever take it away. There’s something powerful about it,” she said. “The Power of Hope.”

Telling other stories

Farber was animated when the subject of marching bands came up. There are more bands from Latin America than ever before, an all-female band from Copenhagen that she is excited about, and many first-year bands.

She rattled of some of the names: West Harrison High School, Miss., which was founded after Hurricane Katrina; Southern University, Baton Rouge, La.; the rare band from upstate New York; from Houston, Texas, Pearland High School, which served as a shelter during Hurricane Harvey; units from  Greendale, Wis. and Alhambra, Calif.; and a  Moreno Valley, Calif. Title I high school.

The Music Committee hosts a music night to show the videos of applicant bands 18 months prior to the parade. The videos present the music and the story that each unit has to tell.

“The quality is off the charts,” Farber said, referencing both the performances and the stories.

Part of the community

Farber is proud that the Tournament of Roses Association is part of the Pasadena community year-round, not just for a few days before and after Jan. 1. Farber reads books to elementary school students and will participate in the Black History and Latino Heritage parades. The Association and Tournament of Roses Foundation support local public schools with money, volunteers, and events.

“The Power of Hope” applies to the game as well, Farber said. The Rose Bowl Game Keith Jackson Postgraduate Scholarship awards $10,000 each to one student from the Big Ten Conference and one student from the Pac-12 Conference. The students do not have to be on the football players. They will shadow the Rose Bowl Game staff and will be presented with their award at Lawry’s Beef Bowl.

The weather report

It’s always sunny for the Rose Parade and Rose Bowl Game, except when it isn’t. But for the previous 130 parades, it has only rained on 10 parades. There are certain superstitions that go along with that—never have a parade on Sunday, don’t ask a Supreme Court Justice to be the Grand Marshal, and don’t choose a theme with any reference to water—but there seems to be only one person responsible.

“The Executive VP is in charge of weather,” Farber informed us. The Executive Vice President becomes the President for the following year. She told 2019 Pres. Gerald Freeny that she gave him a good parade, and it seems she expects 2021 Pres. Robert Miller to provide lovely weather for hers.

Ultimately, Laura Farber hopes that the 131st Tournament of Roses, with the parade, game, and many events, will bring the “joy and happiness of the New Year. We are ‘America’s New Year Celebration.’”

UPDATE: Chinese American Heritage Foundation float from a director’s perspective

A beautiful way to honor the sponsor on “Harmony Through Union.” Photo by LB Monteros

John Schulte emailed The Rose Examiner to give an update on the fire that stalled the Chinese American Heritage Foundation float, “Harmony Through Union,” at the start of the 2019 Tournament of Roses Parade. Schulte is one of the directors of the float, and his daughter, Blythe Abigail Su-Ren Schulte wrote and sang the theme song.

Schulte writes, “Since it’s been a month, I felt it was time to shed light on some of the folks who were involved in helping to safely resolve the fire that erupted inside the float — most specifically, John Strube, our driver.”

He included a link to an article he wrote, which is studded with shots of the float and riders. An additional link at the end of the article connects to more photos and background information on the riders, many of whom are descendants of the original Transcontinental Railroad workers.

The Rose Examiner did a debrief on Jan. 3  with Fiesta Parade Floats president Tim Estes.